The Necessity of the Sex Scandal

Curator's Note

Whenever we are shocked by a new scandal, it often indicates a confrontation with our unconscious knowledge. The revelation of massive pedophilia among priests shocked the public to such an extent because the idea of pedophilic tendencies was already present in our conception of the priesthood. Of course, this is not always the case: there are times when scandals defy our unconscious knowledge, and they nonetheless have the power to shock.

But the sex scandal at Penn State University in 2012, like the scandal of Catholic priests, confronts us with our unconscious knowledge. Jerry Sandusky’s alleged molestation and rape of young boys is scandalous not simply due to the horrifying things that he is said to have done but due to our sense that sexual violence is as integral to college football as the quarterback. It is likely that specific instances of sexual abuse are not widespread in college sports, but this is because sexual abuse inheres within their very structure. In order to become part of a college sports team, one must submit to a sexual initiation. This often includes strict rituals that demonstrate one’s investment in the team. Sexuality is requisite for a group such as a team, but it also represents a danger. If players invest the majority of their sexual desire outside the team, they will not be proper teammates.

This is why the sports team requires some form of sexual submission. When I played on a college football team, sexual initiation was omnipresent in the locker room. Despite the avowedly homophobic politics of almost every member of the team, there were regular rituals that involved a high degree of sexuality. For instance, on a player’s birthday, several members of the team would hold that player down while others shaved his pubic hair. If someone bent down over his locker, it was not uncommon to see another player run to him and pretend to engage in anal penetration, an act that usually involved penis-on-skin contact. What’s more, discussion constantly swirled around the size and shape of different players’ genitalia, and some players even earned their nicknames in this way. The coaches, of course, had no connection with this rampant sexuality, but their ignorance required a strict vigilance. It is just this vigilant ignorance that the true scandal helps to make impossible, so long as we recognize the scandal as structural rather than particular.

Comments

Brian Price's picture

Joe Pa

Hard to disagree, especially given what covered over Sandusky, namely the constant and unironic celebration of a guy unselfconsciously referred to in the media as Joe Pa. Joe. Pa. State, Father, Everyman/Overman. The unrelenting goodness, the near Stalin levels of appearence and celebration every Saturday, should have clued us in long ago—or perhaps, as you say, it nearly did. I’m reminded of a great line from Lauren Berlant on the question of the sex scandal, writen in The Nation a few years ago. I’m quoting, but it may in truth be paraphrase: "Whenever there’s a sex scandal, I always feel sorry for sex."

On the other hand, I wonder what happens—in terms our unconsicous knowledge of sexual hazing and agression, and the sexuality that must remain in some sense on and for the team—when college players emerge in the headlines, as they sometimes do, as sexual predators of women (no matter how truthful any single accusation might be). As you know, life in university athletics obsessed towns also means regular exposure to newspaper reports of x,y, or z being brought up on charges of sexual harassment—and always the harassment of women.

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